Remarks at AMCHAM Human Capital and Labor Affairs Committee Meeting on Bi-national Collaboration for the Development of Human Capital

Good morning, and thank you, Alfredo, for that kind introduction.  And thank you for this invaluable opportunity to engage with such a distinguished group on an issue that is critical both to the success of your companies and our countries’ shared economic prosperity – the development of human capital and the critical role that educational exchange plays in that regard.

But before I move to that topic, allow me to first congratulate you on the important work that you are doing as a committee focused on human capital and labor affairs more broadly.

As the recent events in Baja California remind us, just compensation remains a fundamental issue in our ability to trade effectively across our border.  While collective bargaining is a powerful tool, we have to be careful to ensure that those contracts don’t simply benefit or protect the employers rather than the workers.  The basics of labor relations, as with human relations, teach us that both sides must feel that they are represented equitably and being heard in order to resolve issues. Your leadership in encouraging the business community to manage these issues in a just and equitable fashion is deeply appreciated.

I also want to congratulate you on your important work to ensure that best practices of social inclusion in the US workforce translate effectively to your companies’ diversity here in Mexico as well.  Whether that be women, LGBTQ, indigenous, and other previously marginalized groups in society.

Hiring in a binational firm is a special art.  As the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, I have the privilege of supervising over 2700 U.S. and Mexican employees around the country.

When assembling our teams, we are looking for the best and the brightest and we include in our criteria candidates who are capable of working in cross-cultural settings and in both the languages – English and Spanish – that are the foundation of all our communications, and making one’s “mission” function well.  I can imagine that you all do the same.

Studies have shown that the more companies looking for the same skills in their workers, the greater the opportunities and the benefits there are for collaboration in developing the regional workforce as a whole.  That is part of why I am here today to talk to you about what the U.S. and Mexican governments are doing to ensure that more Mexicans and more Americans know how to speak each other’s languages, understand each other’s cultures, and work together in classrooms, laboratories, and in businesses with an eye to one day applying these skills to strengthen and grow our economies.  And why we believe it is in your interest to join us in these efforts.

I’ll start by going back a bit in time to March 2011, when President Obama announced the “100,000 Strong in the Americas” program aimed at increasing academic mobility between the United States and Latin America.  In doing so, he set the bar high – challenging U.S. partners to send 100,000 students to the United States and to receive 100,000 U.S. students in the region.

When President Obama came to Mexico City in May 2013, he and President Pena-Nieto decided that there was no better place to start achieving these goals then across our shared border and they linked it directly to workforce development and making North America more competetive.  So they established the Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation and Research (or FOBESII), aimed at engaging academia, the private sector, and civil society in increasing academic mobility and joint research and innovation between the U.S. and Mexico.  In doing so, they placed educational exchange at the top of our bilateral policy priorities, defining it as a critical foundation of all our other efforts to strengthen trade and economic cooperation between our countries.

Our first order of business was to understand what was already happening and how it could be improved.  So our two governments held six binational working group meetings in the first six months of 2014.  These meetings brought together over 450 people from both sides of the border and helped us define specific ways in which we could increase academic cooperation between our countries.  In 2015, we established four standing binational working groups – FOBESII committees for all intensive purposes – with specific assignments for each committee in terms of realizing the action plan that was laid out for us in 2014.

One of those four working groups, the workforce development working group, is co-chaired by ANUIES and the American Association of Community Colleges, and we were recently pleased to welcome the Chair of this Committee, Alfredo Kupfer Dominguez, as a member. This working group is focused specifically on ways in which we can effectively engage the private sector and academia to prepare both U.S. and Mexican students to fill the jobs that we are creating together each day.   It’s great that Guillermo Hernández is here with us this morning representing ANUIES.  Thank you for all the great work that ANUIES is accomplishing each day in developing our binational human capital.

From aerospace to automobiles to energy; from telecommunications to tourism; from advanced manufacturing to agriculture, companies on both sides of our border need employees capable of working together effectively.

Whether we’re talking about executives who can manage blended teams or technicians who can read manuals in different languages, our labor force is becoming as integrated as the world in which we live and adapting as that world changes.  If we want to achieve our shared goals of making North America the most prosperous economic region in the world, it is absolutely critical that we start collaborating more effectively to ensure that our young people are getting the skills that they need to help our business succeed.  And it can’t be just a handful of students, because we are generating more than just a handful of jobs each year.

2014 was a very good year for academic exchange, thanks, in a large part to the generous support of Mexico’s Ministry of Education and the hard work of hundreds of partners on both sides of the border.   We almost doubled the numbers of Mexican students in the United States – going from 14,000 to 27,000 – and we witnessed a tremendous increase in partnerships between U.S. and Mexican universities.  But I have to be honest that, outside of key partners like Banco Santander and Televisa, we weren’t successful in engaging the private sector in these efforts.

Part of the issue, in my opinion, is that support for education initiatives is too often relegated to foundations and corporate social responsibility programs.

But when it comes to academic exchange – developing young people who know how to work in cross-cultural settings – it’s much more than doing something good for society. It’s really about doing something good for your company.  It’s about looking at your supply chain and understanding that your future employees are as critical to your success as the raw materials that you need to fabricate whatever it is your company makes.

So what are the skills we need to foster in our youth?     First, language capacity is key – teaching Mexicans to speak English and teaching Americans to speak Spanish.  Second, we need the broad array of technical training that falls under the heading of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.  It is hard to find a medium-sized or large company in the world that doesn’t need people trained in their fields – whether it’s computer technicians or electrical engineers or climate specialists.  Our governments have placed particular focus on these areas because we believe that the more young people who are successful in these fields, the more prepared we will be to grow our economic prosperity in the future.  And third is academic exchange – exposing our young people to living, studying, working, and doing research across the border.

For example, did you know that 5 of the Mexican experts who negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement studied in the United States on Fulbright scholarships?

They not only knew how to think and work in English, but they also knew how Americans think and work.  I have no doubt that they were more effective because of those skills.  And we want to have thousands more Mexicans and Americans who understand their colleagues from across the border, so they can think and work together as well.  If we can achieve this goal, then we will all be stronger for the partnerships that we can develop.

So how can you get involved?  First, by helping spread the word to other companies about the importance of binational workforce development and the role that academic exchange between the U.S. and Mexico play in this regard.

Second, by working internally to define your short, medium and long-term human resources requirements and developing a strategy to ensure that you are working effectively with academia to meet those needs.  And third, by supporting academic exchange, language acquisition, and binational internships that develop the very skills that U.S. and Mexican students will need to support your businesses in the future.

My colleague and friend, Ana Luisa Fajer, will tell you about some of the specific programs that we have developed together that would benefit from your support.   But we are also eager to hear your ideas of programs that we haven’t yet heard or thought about.

The private sector is a key partner in FOBESII, but you’ve been a silent partner for too long.  Thank you for allowing me to start this discussion with you today and to learn how we can collaborate more effectively together in the future.  Thank you.